Thu, Jul 29, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Reform of news media a must for democracy

By Lao Pao老包

Ever since 2000, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First Party (PFP) have been unable to accept the fact that Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was elected president. Since he won with just 40 percent of the vote, they focused on the fact that KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) had together won more votes. In this way they denied losing the election. This was a warning of the anti-democratic mania that has continued to affect them.

For example, when it rained during a pan-blue protest outside the Presidential Office after Chen was re-elected, claims were made that Chen had asked the Air Force to dump water from above. They said the assassination attempt on Chen the day before the election was staged by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

In the areas where the DPP vote count was high, there was also a higher proportion of invalid ballots. This should mean that many DPP supporters lost the opportunity to vote for their party. But the pan-blue camp found someone at the Academia Sinica to say that the high number of invalid ballots was incontrovertible proof of vote-fixing.

This verges on hysteria. And when transmitted through the media, it has forced Taiwanese society into a state of intellectual paralysis. (Even forensic scientist Henry Lee's report, in which the pan-blue camp had put so much faith, was rejected because it was "intellectually impartial.") Now the pan-blue camp has, with the assistance of numerous retired diplomats, published a pamphlet titled Bulletgate, which it used to air its paranoid suspicions to the Americans.

This is a scene worthy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. No wonder that former DPP chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良), to win the approval of pan-blue camp supporters, said in a speech, "We should publicly announce that Lien and Soong have been elected president and vice president." In the cuckoo's nest, if you don't talk like that, people might think you're crazy.

There are other examples. One pro-unification newspaper had as a front-page headline: "Three DPP heavyweights take NT$30 million in bribes." That news proved to be false. Another paper reported that the Ministry of Finance would introduce a capital gains tax for the stock market. The news caused a drop in stock prices before it was also proved false.

A PFP legislator made accusations about government subsidies of NT$1.84 million for a building called the "President's Official Residence." Later it came to light that the subsidy was perfectly legitimate and was earmarked for an apartment building in Nantou named "President's Official Residence" that had been damaged in an earthquake. Now that over 70 percent of public expression is controlled by such "journalists," there will be few quiet days.

Opponents of democracy will come and go, but the pro-unification media is always there to do their work. Why is this? The media is a privileged field dominated by a small number of families -- and the media reject the idea of Taiwanese being in control of Taiwan. Although there is now plenty of talk about media freedom, a large portion of the media still consist of these same people and they continue to maintain the "old order."

Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen have done much over the last 16 years to reform politics. But in the face of this highly complex media environment, they are unable to act. Lee once said that he regretted not reforming the media while he was still in power. When Chen steps down in 2008, the question of media reform is likely to arise again. In the meantime, if people are willing to endure the media's outrageous behavior, then the hard-won foundations of democracy will be undermined.

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